See chapter 1 for disclaimer.
by Mike Dewar
We emerged from the hallway in an awkward procession, heralded by Cordelia's brilliant smile and the words, "We've decided to take your case. Cash or account?"
Ms Welsh looked relieved to concentrate on something as mundane as payment. "Cash, if that's all right."
Cordelia's grin threatened to remove her head, but Angel stepped hastily in before the words "hourly rate" could cross her lips. "Cordelia, Doyle, if you'd get the equipment from downstairs? Wes, can you dig up a ritual format?"
Cordelia looked decidedly sullen. I couldn't blame her. If Angel's firm ran anything like mine, a client willing to pay cash was of far more excitement and interest than any run-of-the-mill magic spell.
But somewhat to my surprise, she swallowed the blistering response that was obviously brewing in her eyes, and grabbed my arm, ignoring the buzz of static that seemed to flare up every time we touched. Admittedly, her nails were drawing blood as she pulled me after her down the stairs, and I could swear my supernaturally sensitive ears were picking up the sound of her teeth grinding, but the thought was there.
Thankfully she let go of my arm midway down, apparently deciding that there was no chance of my getting lost in a simple stairwell (the fact that I walked up and down its alternate-reality sibling ten times a day notwithstanding).
Back down in my - in Angel's apartment she stalked across the living room and into the bedroom. I followed cautiously, taking the time to observe fully the changes the vampire had made.
No, ‘changes' was the wrong word, wasn't it? I had never lived in this place, never slumped with Faith on the couch to watch wrestling on a TV that wasn't there, never shared a pot of tea with Wesley while sitting at a table that was now across the room, or fought Spike on the floor now covered with an expensive rug.
Sure, some other version of me had probably lounged on Angel's chairs, chatted to him, raided his fridge for any fluids that weren't blood, but not me.
I shook off the chill that seemed to have crept up my spine without my noticing, and followed Cordelia into Angel's bedroom. She was over by his closet, pulling out clothing and boxes with the abandon of someone who has absolutely no intention of cleaning after herself. I glanced inside. Angel's wardrobe choices were not unexpected. Black featured heavily, though the surprise appearance of a pair of leather pants left me longing frantically for a less vivid imagination.
"Gotcha!" The pants were flung to one side, as Cordelia hunkered down and dragged out a largish cardboard box, filled with foul-smelling herbs and bottles that didn't look anywhere near as pleasant as the ones with which I normally associated.
I stared dubiously at the over-filled box and wrinkled my nose in disgust. "Do this often, do you?"
Cordelia shrugged. "We still have some leftovers from the last cleansing spell we did. You - uh, the other you got it from one of your dodgy demon buddies or something."
That would be Rick Stanz, I figured. Unless Rick was his bizarre double or something, and had become a small-town preacher in Nowhere, Iowa. Knowing Rick, I felt that unlikely.
But then again, I thought I knew Faith.
Hastily squashing that particular train of thought, I picked up the box, bringing all those nasty smells even closer to my suffering nose. "So what'd you cleanse that time?"
I couldn't resist it. "Couldn't you just invest in a hoover or somethin'?"
Predictably, Cordelia was unamused. "Ha-ha. I was hoping that, being Bizarro Doyle and all, you'd actually have grown a sense of humour. So sad I was wrong."
She headed back up the stairs at speed, without much respect for my own over-burdened gait. Crabwise, I half-climbed, half-staggered after her, trying not to spill foul-smelling ritual liquids all over my shirt. "So how'd that work out for you, anyways? Get rid of your ghost?"
"Actually, no," she called over her shoulder. "He's my roommate."
I nearly dropped the box on my feet.
By the time I crawled up the stairs, Angel and Wes were deep in some discussion on rituals, and Cordy was over by Miriam Welsh. She flashed me a "what took you so long?" look.
I tried to respond with a "well, I was climbing up a flight of stairs in the dark carrying a huge box and being guided by a crazy woman who lives with a dead person!" look. Unfortunately, I don't really think all the subtleties came across correctly.
"Doyle," Angel said, with too much warmth for my comfort. "We were waiting on you. Wes and I have worked out a ritual, and we're good to go." He turned to our - their client. "Ms Welsh. We're ready to go when you are."
Something began to niggle at the back of my mind.
Mrs Welsch nodded in a vague way. "You won't hurt him, will you? He was always very gentle and kind to me...you know, before, when we were...he was - "
"Don't worry," Wesley assured her. "An exorcism may seem extreme, but it isn't really. It's just a way of...easing the spirit on to wherever it's going. A bit like a birth, really. A lot of noise and stress, but everyone's the better for it. It was the blasted film that gave everything such a terrible reputation."
"Actually, I thought it was quite realis - " Everybody looked at Angel, who turned the rest of the sentence into a cough. From a man who didn't breathe. Yeah, real convincing. "So let's go, shall we?"
The three of them began to herd Mrs Welsh towards the door. I started to clear my throat.
"Doyle!" Cordy snapped. "Move your heinie!"
"Where to?" I retorted.
She frowned. "To Miriam's apartment, nitwit. Haven't you been listening to anything we've been saying?"
"Oh, really. To Miriam's apartment, huh? Why exactly are we goin' there, when she was attacked at the boyfriend's place?"
There was a quiet moment. "No," Cordy said. "She was attacked at her - "
"No, she wasn't," Angel cut her off, glancing sheepishly at the pad of notes.
Everyone looked at Miriam, who nodded. "We were having dinner at Ben's."
"An' didn't you say you'd felt his presence around you a lot?" I asked. "Before you even met Ben. So why exactly would the ghost be hauntin' his apartment?"
"I-I don't know," Miriam said, looking somewhat confused.
I glanced at the flushed figures standing beside her (except, of course, for Angel, who was still pretty damn pale.) "Jeez. An' you call yourselves detectives," I said, not without a trace of smugness.
"All right," Wesley said. "So it's a haunting located around a person, not a location. Around Miriam. That doesn't change the ritual to any great degree - "
" - except that we have to make it manifest somehow," Angel said, those already-oversized brows of his furrowing. "We need the spirit fully present here for the spell to work."
"So how are we gonna get it here?" Cordy asked. "Send a Spirit-O-Gram?"
"Piece of cake."
They all looked dubiously at me. "It is?" Angel asked.
I smirked. "Uh-huh. This ghost's basically just your average over-protective husband, right? Well, I know what'd piss me off royally if I had a wife who looked as pretty as Miriam..."
"Oh, come on," Cordelia pleaded. "Don't be so immature about this."
"She's really cute..."
Cordy changed tack. "Angel, she's a poor, innocent woman being tormented by her dead husband! She needs this."
"Angeeeel. She's willing to pay cash."
"Cordelia, I said no," Angel ground out. "I am not going to make out with our client so the ghost of her husband will appear and try to kill me. It's not happening." His eyes flicked over to Miriam, who was sitting in embarrassed silence in her seat at the far corner of the office, while the four of us clustered at the other end. We'd been trying to keep it quiet, but that last remark had obviously come out louder than he had intended.
That route was obviously closed, so Cordelia locked onto another target. Unfortunately, it was me.
I had difficulty breathing, trapped in the merciless spotlight of her eyes. "Are you crazy? Faith would kill me!"
She rolled her eyes. "Doyle, she's in another dimension or something. She'd never know."
"You think I want to take the risk?" I said, trying to keep it light. "Especially now I've heard what she's capable of?"
And that was the wrong thing to say. Everybody looked at Wesley, who looked out of the window.
For my part, I wasn't really sure why I'd said it. It certainly wasn't a serious comment, but there was nevertheless no chance on earth I was betraying Faith. It didn't matter that she might never know, that she routinely flirted with men in front of me at clubs and parties, or practically tore their clothes off them on the dance floor if I was too tired to dance with her. That's just her way. Faith will be...Faith, I guess.
And I'm me. And Allan Francis Doyle never cheats on his lady. No matter what.
I gradually became aware that Cordelia's sympathetic gaze at Wesley had become distinctly more...speculative.
Miriam appeared surprisingly unconcerned about the whole thing. She sat demurely at the desk we had converted into a dinner table, poking at the weeks-old microwave dinner Angel had dug up from the last time he'd had guests - a long time ago, by the smell.
By contrast, Wesley looked about ready to die. Seated opposite her, he was sweating with a fervour that suggested the candles Cordelia had scrounged were considerably warmer than might appear. His voice, when he spoke, was thin and strained like a man who couldn't breathe properly.
If that was how he was on real dates, I wasn't surprised the man never got any.
We kept a safe distance from our little staged romance, in an attempt to try to make it less awkward than it absolutely had to be. Evidently, we had failed.
Wesley and Angel had decided on a Shamanic variant of exorcism, so as to get around Angel's crucifix issues. As a result, Angel was hunched over a messy-looking array of pastes and herbs, smearing sacred symbols onto his forehead with the logical hesitancy of a man who can't see his own reflection.
Cordy and I sat near him, ostensibly helping. Instead, we kibitzed about nothing in particular and Cordelia gave Angel occasional tips about how she usually applied makeup. They didn't go down well.
"So, about this spectral roomie of yours," I said. "How's that workin' out for you?"
Cordelia smiled warmly. "Oh, Dennis and I get along great. He takes care of all the house-cleaning and stuff, and I just hang around and...you know, live there."
It sounded to me like she'd found herself live-in help for free. That's pretty impressive in Los Angeles, even if the live-in help isn't technically alive.
"Must save on food bills," I commented.
"Well, yeah, though Dennis doesn't exactly pay rent. I was wondering if I could find a way to write him off to the IRS as a dependent, since that would really - "
The sound of breaking glass interrupted her, and we both tensed, turning to face the table again.
"S-sorry," Wesley apologised guiltily, indicating the broken wine glass on the floor with an ineffectual wave of his hand.
Cordy rolled her eyes. "God, that man is so wet."
"I don't know..." I said thoughtfully. "Is it just me, or is Mrs Welsh enjoyin' herself a little bit more than you'd expect?"
She stared intently at the couple. Sure enough, Miriam was smiling at Wesley as she helped him to pick up the broken shards, warmly dismissing his apologies. "Wow. You know, I think you could be onto something there..."
I shrugged. "I don't get it. I mean, what is attractive about that?"
That was Wesley forgetting this was just a staged meal and taking a bite of his prehistoric microwave dinner, then gagging and fumbling desperately for Miriam's wine glass, which he knocked over too.
"I guess every girl wants a guy with class," Cordelia said. "And Wesley does ooze that. Even if he also oozes poor, desperate and boring. Heck, I had a crush on him once."
That little tidbit gave me some pause. "You? What happened?"
She laughed. "He's a terrible kisser. I mean, really, really apocalyptically bad."
"Ah," I said, filing that away for potential use when I got back home. Then something else gave me pause. "So you've kissed Wesley. And you kissed the other me. Any other co-workers you've been smooching?"
Both our gazes shifted inexorably to Angel, who looked up, his face smeared with garish green-and-purple paste. "What?" he asked.
"...God, no." Cordelia shuddered. The sound of breaking glass dragged us both back from that Dark Mental Cave. "Wesley, do we have to buy Styrofoam cu - "
"Cordelia," I cut her off. Both Wesley and Miriam stared at us, their faces frightened and pale. On Cordelia's desk, a good ten metres away, a vase had shattered on the floor.
Angel's eyes searched the room behind their mask of grease. "Anybody see anything?"
"How can we see anything?" Cordelia retorted. "It's a ghost."
"It could just have been a breeze," Wesley offered.
"Only one way to find out," I suggested. "Let's turn up the heat. Uh, metaphorically speakin'."
"Angel?" Wes said plaintively.
Wesley leaned towards Miriam, who shifted uncomfortably in her seat, and pecked her on the cheek. He hastily retreated as if her skin had burned him, and we all scanned the room again. Everything was still. Angel rose to his feet, holding the sheet of paper with the incantation on it. "Try again."
Wes swallowed and smiled weakly at Miriam. "Once more unto the breach, yes?"
She smiled nervously back, and Wesley leaned in for another peck. I wasn't sure if Wesley veered off-course, or if she turned her head at the last minute, but the ensuing kiss was no peck. It was long and enthusiastic.
Angel and I both averted our eyes. Cordelia stared critically ahead. "He's been practicing," she observed.
Wesley and Miriam finally broke it off. "Did you feel that, too?" he said breathlessly.
"I guess the Earth moved," I said wryly.
He flushed, and started to respond, when the entire table shifted in front of him, spilling what was left of the cutlery as it began to tremble violently. "Angel..."
Angel took his cue, starting to speak. It sounded like meaningless gibberish to me, and evidently the ghost felt much the same way, since the table just began to shake more furiously. With a crash, one of the filing cabinets leapt forward and fell to the floor. Miriam flinched at the loud noise, her eyes misting with tears. "Jeremy..." she whispered. "Please don't be angry...Jeremy!"
The name became a scream as the door to the office swung open so violently that the glass in its window cracked. The entire office was shaking now, papers spinning off desks into the air as cold wind tore through the rooms.
Angel continued to chant, the papers forming a funnel around him as the wind raged on and the lights swung from the ceiling. The wind's voice seemed to rise to challenge the vampire's own as he screamed the final words of the spell.
And nothing happened. The wind tore the incantation from his hand and shredded it. Angel stood there, dumbfounded.
"Angel..." Wesley repeated nervously, barely audible above the raging wind. "What's - " The rest of the sentence was choked from him as the wind seemed to lose interest in Angel and swept towards him, carrying with it most of Angel Investigations' case files. "Angel!" he shouted, squinting in the wind as papers spun about him, slapping against his head and shoulders. He appeared to be struggling to get out of the chair, but something held him firmly. Miriam's fork leapt from the table stabbed down at the seat of his chair, thudding into the wood between his legs.
"Angel!" The cry was considerably higher and more panicked now. Angel began to struggle towards Wesley, the wind slamming into him, impeding his progress.
"Stay here!" I snarled at Cordelia, my jacket flailing about me as I staggered towards Wesley as well. The wind stung my skin and smashed my torso like a flurry of punches.
"Doyle!" she yelled, her voice cracking with fear. "Wait!"
I glanced back at her, and saw her staring in horror at the desk we had been sitting on. A loud rattling was coming from it as if something was trying to tear itself loose. "What?"
"We - we keep some spare weapons in there. Stakes...knives."
I frowned. The roaring wind was a distraction, making it hard to think. "Huh?"
"Doyle - it's not locked."
I spun around and screamed at Angel. "We need to get the hell outta here!"
He nodded, almost at Wesley's private tornado of paper, and then bobbed his head to the side. I caught his meaning. Miriam was on her hands and knees, trying desperately to crawl towards the door, sobbing and screaming as the wind ripped through her long hair, effectively blinding her with the long locks.
I turned and grabbed Cordelia by the arm. "Come on!" Pulling her after me, and gritting my teeth against the weird static buzz which was the least of our problems at the moment, I staggered through the hurricane that the office had become.
One step. Two steps. I was literally bent into the wind, straining with every muscle to advance. Three steps.
A fourth. I was at Miriam now, and I pulled her to her feet. "Jeremy...Jeremy, please forgive..." she whispered, her voice hoarse from screaming. Dragging both Cordelia and Miriam after me, I lurched forward, reached the open door. Shoved them out into the calm and quiet of the passageway beyond.
I turned back, clinging to the doorframe, as Angel and Wesley struggled towards me. The vampire was practically carrying Wes, shielding him from the rage of the storm with his own body. Despite that, something struck Wes's head hard and he lolled against Angel's shoulder. I stretched out a hand towards them. Angel looked up - and stopped, his eyes wide.
"Come on," I snarled, standing in the doorway as wind whipped around me. "Come on, damn you!"
Then I felt the warmth of the sun on my back, and understood.
Angel took another step towards me, his skin starting to smoke. "Take Wesley!" he yelled. "I'll be all right!"
I stared at the vampire's face, screwed up in pain, as he took another step towards the deadly, sun-lit exit. My enemy, by his nature. My friend, by the actions of another me.
As my old adversary Spike might say, bugger this for a lark.
I stepped away from the doorway. Uncomprehending, Angel offered Wesley to me, but I pushed past both of them into the centre of the room.
The first thought I had, as I hit the full force of the storm, of the worst Jeremy Welsh had to give, was grudgingly admiring: How the hell did that bastard carry Wesley through this?
And then there was no more room for thought. A pot plant flung itself at me, smashing itself into my face, and I crashed to the ground in demon form. The uncompromising way the wind pushed down on me let me know I wasn't getting up again. So I crawled. I crawled, inch by inch, as the wind screamed and spun around me, along the floor of office. Towards the coat hooks at the far end.
In my world, it might hold one of my worn jackets, one of Wesley's neatly-pressed blazers or one of Faith's shiny leather numbers. Here, now, it held the only thing that could keep Angel alive.
A long, dark coat.
I managed to grab onto the tail of the coat, which, like everything else in the room, was flailing around crazily. Using it as a support, I pulled myself to my feet and leaned against the wall.
I remained there for a moment, looking across the room at Angel, Wesley still cradled in his arms. I looked into his eyes and saw trust there. Absolute trust in his dead friend Doyle, that Doyle would make it through everything with a smile and ready joke.
At that point, the entire matter of what I thought of Angel became pretty much irrelevant. There was no way I was going to let the memory of this poor, dead version of me down. It didn't matter if he really was as heroic as they had painted him to be (and knowing myself, I was pretty damn sure he wasn't), I was the next best thing.
And I wasn't going to die at the invisible hands of some jilted, dead lover of some woman I hardly knew. Because I was needed at home, in my real home, and because these people would break like glass if they saw their friend die a second time.
I still don't remember crossing the room to get to the door. I think I blacked out (either that, or Angel's coat just wrapped itself around my head), but the next thing I knew, I was at the door, flinging myself into Angel and throwing the coat over both him and Wesley as we crashed down into the sunlight.